Tenn. Makes 'Unprecedented' Push to Execute 10 on Death Row

Thursday, 05 Dec 2013 11:06 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Tennessee officials are making an unprecedented push in the state Supreme Court for execution dates to be set for 10 death row inmates, whose appeals have apparently been exhausted.

Critics of the move say the effort is motivated by the fact the state has executed only six inmates since 1960, the last in 2009, according to The Tennessean.

“I’ve been representing death row inmates for two decades, and never in my experience have I ever seen a situation where a state has requested 10 execution dates all at once. This is an unprecedented situation," Kelley Henry, who a public defender who represents several of the death row inmates, told the newspaper.

There are 78 inmates housed in Riverbend Maximum Security Institution's death row facility in Nashville, reports The Tennessean. Many of them have been there for decades, including David Miller, one of the 10 the state is seeking to execute as soon as possible. Sentenced for killing a woman with a firepoker, he has been on death row since 1981.

Execution dates are already set for two inmates. Billy Ray Irick is scheduled to be put to death on Jan. 15 for raping and killing a 7-year-old Knoxville girl he was babysitting in 1985. Nickolus Johnson, who was not included in the list of 10 inmates submitted to the state Supreme Court, is scheduled for execution on April 22 for killing a police officer in 2004.

Henry and other defense attorneys are appealing the executions through a lower court, raising questions about the new lethal injection drug cocktail the state plans to use when it resumes executions.

Executions in the state were put on hold in 2011 after the drug sodium thiopental used by many states in executions procedures was pulled from the market. The state has now adopted a new injection procedure with a new mix of drugs, the Tennessean reports.

Reacting to criticism about filing 10 motions for execution dates at the same time, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office said the 10 inmates named in the motions "were all ready to be set for execution" before the state put everything on hold to come up with a new injection protocol.

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